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'Tailhook' resignations

WASHINGTON - Two top Navy admirals were effectively sacked yesterday and a third 're-assigned', as the Pentagon delivered a blistering first report outlining the attempt from within its ranks to cover up the sexual harassment scandal involving naval and marine pilots at their annual 'Tailhook' convention 12 months ago, writes Rupert Cornwell.

Presenting the findings of the report, the acting Navy Secretary, Sean O'Keefe, announced that Rear-Admiral Duvall Williams, the commander of the Naval Investigation Service, and Rear- Admiral John Gordon, the service's Judge Advocate General, were being replaced by civilians.

The 'request of early retirement' by both men had been accepted, Mr O'Keefe said. The Navy's Inspector General, Admiral George Washington Davis, is meanwhile being moved to another job.

Admiral Williams was accused of 'repeatedly attempting' to block the investigation, while Admiral Gordon was castigated for his 'poor professional judgement' in not pressing sufficiently the inquiry into the worst sex scandal to hit the US armed forces in decades.

The incidents in question occurred at the Hilton Hotel, Las Vegas, in September 1991, when at least 26 women aviators were forced to run a gauntlet of their male colleagues lined up in a corridor. The women were fondled, ridiculed with sexual obscenities, and in several cases had their clothes half-torn from their bodies.

The report bluntly declares that the senior officials in charge of the investigation 'allowed their concern for the Navy as an institution to obscure the need to determine accountability for the misconduct'.